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‘Your Fat Friend’ seeks to rectify an unfair oversight

“Your Fat Friend” (2023). Cast: Aubrey Gordon, Michael Hobbes, Rusty Gordon, Pam Gordon. Director: Jeanie Finlay. Screenplay: Jeanie Finlay. Web site. Trailer.

Imagine being systematically discriminated against and unduly ridiculed without those inflicting such hurtful and unfair acts suffering any consequences. Those in various minority communities can no doubt relate to such treatment, having been subjected to it for long periods before legal protections were put into place (and, in some cases, even after those safeguards were implemented). However, there’s one constituency that’s effectively gone without protection – and, in many respects, still continues to do so. That kind of vulnerability should make everyone squirm, whether or not they’re directly impacted by such blindly sanctioned abuse, but few steps have been taken to protect those who bear the brunt of these conditions – that is, until now, thanks to an undertaking seeking to correct this oversight, as detailed in the affecting new documentary, “Your Fat Friend.”

A decade ago, almost nobody had heard of Aubrey Gordon, but that’s begun to change significantly in recent years. The onetime-organizer behind various social causes worked behind the scenes in such areas as LGBTQ+ rights and voter registration efforts. But her greatest accomplishments were still in her future, coming about in a way that she probably never expected in terms of influence, success and impact.

Gordon is a big woman, larger than most of those in mainstream society. But, for all of society’s efforts to refer to her physical stature in an allegedly tactful manner – “plus size,” “full-figured,” “overweight,” etc. – she actually prefers a term that she believes is fundamentally most accurate – fat. In fact, she has intentionally made an effort to encourage others to use that term as well, relying on the mantra “Just say fat.” It’s a phrase that some may find uncomfortable or offensive whether or not afflicted by this condition, but she says it to impress upon the public that this is who she and others like her are – and that they need to accept it and get used to it.

However, Gordon’s roots in this area were somewhat less provocative and in your face. In 2016, as she was finding her voice, she spoke anonymously through a blog under the pen name “Your Fat Friend.” She wrote it initially to speak her mind and to get frustrations off her chest, but, somewhat to her surprise, she found a captive audience who could appreciate the sentiments she was expressing. In no time, she had quite a following who could relate to what she said.

So what was Your Fat Friend writing about? She addressed issues reflecting the inherent, unrecognized bias that has been unwittingly incorporated into many of society’s conventions and infrastructures, standards and precepts that blatantly discriminate against fat people. For instance, consider the frustrations associated with undersized seating accommodations on airplanes and public transportation, as well as in theaters (or, as Gordon has so frequently put it, imagine what it would be like for someone trying to fit into a space specifically designed for someone else (i.e., a smaller individual)). Then there are the clothing designers who obliviously create fashions suitable only to those with the figures of runway models, never taking into consideration that there may be fat consumers out there who would like to be just as stylish as anyone else (a surprisingly shortsighted view given that the average clothing sizes of a growing number of individuals has been increasing for years now). And, of course, there are plenty of comparable oversights in the medical community, as fat patients can attest to when it comes to finding a blood pressure cuff that can comfortably fit around their arms.

Speaking of the medical community, there are also many fat-prejudiced comments and attitudes that routinely emerge from its practitioners. Most of them are simplistic in nature, such as the dismissive observations that health care providers make when they flippantly say to fat patients “Just lose some weight” or “Eat less and exercise more.” Frequently, fat individuals have tried these measures, only to have them fail or result in weight loss followed by rebounding weight gain (the patently unhealthy so-called “yo-yo dieting” phenomenon). These ineffective recommendations are frequently backed by equally ineffective diet plans, most of which simply don’t work, either. Then there are those frustrating doctor’s appointments in which every office visit turns into a weight loss conversation regardless of the reason why the meeting was scheduled in the first place. Gordon expresses the nagging irritation that fat people nearly always experience when these appointments start out as examinations to treat a specific condition, such as a skin rash, but invariably turn into yet another badgering session about futile diet, exercise and lifestyle recommendations. Yet fat individuals who don’t attain any meaningful, lasting success through these practices are often scolded for their “failures,” usually painted in broad brush strokes as being lazy, unmotivated and stupid – including from more than a few insensitive, uninformed medical practitioners.

Those caustic comments are often just the tip of the iceberg, too. In citing examples of the ridicule she was subjected to when blogging anonymously, Gordon says she received comments (most of which were posted anonymously, too) that said such things as “You’re disgusting – why don’t you just die!” or “You don’t deserve to live,” often punctuated with hurtful, graphic expletives. In other cases, she found herself being the recipient of unsolicited “advice” from shaming strangers, such as an instance when Gordon was criticized by a fellow supermarket shopper who said she had no business putting a melon in her cart because “it has too much sugar.” Imagine what it would be like for someone whose body size was “normal” to hear something like that.

As Gordon’s blog following grew, she began to feel the need to come forward, breaking the surface and making herself publicly known. Given the kinds of comments she had received to her posts, she was understandably apprehensive, even fearing for her safety. However, when a book deal landed on the table, she realized she had to go public, which she did with the publication of her first title, What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat (2020). The success of that book led to a podcast with journalist Michael Hobbes, Maintenance Phase. And, in 2023, Gordon penned “You Just Need to Lose Weight”: And 19 Other Myths About Fat People.

Since the publication of her books and the launch of her podcast, the ranks of Gordon’s followers have swollen. In footage from a book signing for her first title at Powell’s Books in her native Portland, she’s seen greeting countless individuals whose personal circumstances mirror her own, some of them overcome with emotion that they have finally found an advocate on their side. This role, with its tremendous outpouring of goodwill, may not have been something that this fat activist envisioned for herself when she was younger, but she’s found a place for herself, while others have found a voice for themselves through her courage and willingness to speak up. This development may have been a while in coming, but it finally has – and none too soon.

Based on what’s chronicled here, Gordon is indeed passionate about her mission, even if it took some time to launch it. However, given that body size issues have dogged her all of her life, it’s not as though she hadn’t racked up considerable experience with this condition by the time she undertook this initiative, even when she was doing so anonymously. In interviews with Aubrey’s parents, Pam and Rusty, it’s revealed that weight has been an issue for their daughter from a young age. They tried all of the conventional means of addressing it, such as weight loss programs, diets and so forth, but none of them worked, as many individuals who have been fat since childhood have discovered for themselves.

By the time Gordon began raising awareness of this issue – particularly the deliberate and unrecognized discrimination against the fat community – she was well versed in the subject and felt the need to speak out. And her success in this area is directly attributable to the strength of her beliefs about it, a product of the conscious creation process, the philosophy that maintains we draw upon these intangible resources in manifesting the existence we experience. It’s not clear whether the activist has heard of or is aware of this way of thinking, but, considering the results she has achieved, it’s apparent she knows how to make use of its principles to attain her sought-after outcomes.

One of Gordon’s biggest challenges has been overcoming her fears associated with taking on this task. At first, she was genuinely afraid to come forward in light of some of the comments she received to her initial blog posts. However, fear is in itself a belief, and, if we allow ourselves to hold onto it, this notion can be paralyzing, keeping us locked in place and preventing us from realizing the goals we hope to attain. Getting past this belief roadblock, then, was essential to moving forward.

In turn, Gordon needed to rewrite this impeding belief with one that would make for a suitable replacement – in essence, the exact opposite of what she had been holding onto. This meant embracing beliefs related to courage and living heroically. And, considering the magnitude of what she took on, Gordon, in fact, bought into these new ideas. It helped that she had significant backing, too, both from family and friends, as well as the many supporters who enthusiastically lent their encouragement. By adding their belief energy to hers, they jointly created a powerful juggernaut to promote awareness of their cause. Consequently, the more assistance she received, the more empowered she became and the more she was subsequently able to accomplish.

Speaking for those who weren’t or hadn’t been able to do so thus became Gordon’s mission. She turned a bright spotlight on the issues that she and others have long had to live with. In the process, she raised awareness and sought rectification for the indignities inflicted upon fat people. And, if that’s not a noble cause, I don’t know what is.

To reach these goals, Gordon has had to spend considerable effort educating others, specifically when comes to overcoming ignorance and dispelling outdated ideas. Admittedly, that’s quite a task, given how ingrained these fallacious notions have become in the minds of so many, including those – like health care professionals – who seemingly should know better. This is likely to be a task that will require ongoing efforts for some time to come, too, largely because these archaic concepts are so embedded in the mass consciousness. However, as we have seen in recent decades, change is possible, provided we believe in it and put belief energy behind these reforms.

This cause, it would seem, is now Gordon’s destiny. More specifically, it could perhaps be better described as her value fulfillment, the practice of being her best, truest self for the betterment of herself and others, particularly those who are similarly situated. Anyone who has ever experienced any kind of oppression and ridicule can understand the pain and anguish these conditions can cause, no matter what quality they’re based on. However, the issue of body size is one of those qualities for which these circumstances have not yet been addressed with adequate protections. Gordon’s work is aimed at doing just that, and she’s to be commended for doing so in light of how many people will benefit from it.

It should be noted that this is not meant to suggest that anyone should willingly seek to become fat who is not already. The health considerations associated with weight can’t, in all good conscience, be ignored. However, this movement is intended to draw attention to the fact that fatness is not something that can be easily dispensed with, especially when individuals are encouraged (if not brow-beaten) into simplistically employing tactics that have largely been shown to be innately ineffective. It’s a condition that can’t be changed with a snap of the fingers. There are likely underlying causes behind it that defy easy explanation, including the unidentified beliefs that helped to create the condition in the first place (conscious creation can certainly have its “downside,” to be sure). But, until better diagnostic and treatment measures – both psychological and medical – become apparent, those who are living with the condition must not be disrespected or mocked for it. Rather, their needs must be addressed and met just as readily as the accommodations made for others living with challenging circumstances of their own. After all, it’s only fair.

To that end, those interested in seeing justice done in this area should look into the work being done by Gordon, both on her blog site and her home page. Additional information can also be found on the film’s web site, which includes links to allied sites, such as the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, which has organized a campaign to promote legislation seeking equal opportunities for the fat community. A petition to support the bill, with further information about the legislation and its intents and related developments, is available by clicking here.

They say you can never truly understand what it’s like to feel what someone else experiences until you’ve walked a mile in his or her shoes. That’s often been said about many of those in minority communities, and, thankfully, some progress in understanding appears to have been made in those cases over the years. But one segment of society in which little advancement has been made involves those who are fat. For some reason, fat folks continue to be systematically marginalized – if not outright derided – in countless ways, and there’s often been little that they can do about these pervasive attacks. Now, however, writer-director Jeanie Finlay’s new documentary profile of author/podcaster/fat activist Aubrey Gordon sheds new light on what individuals affected by this condition face on a daily basis. The film holds back little in terms of exposing the unbridled scorn thrust upon her and those like her, while simultaneously celebrating the overflowing shower of support bestowed upon her for her efforts. The picture also goes on the record exposing the many myths and lies that have been long perpetuated about fat people and the volumes of bad, uninformed advice they have received for decades. Admittedly, the material covered in the film could be a little better organized at times, especially when it turns redundant, as it does on several occasions. There is also a fair amount of unrelated incidental footage that probably could have been cut without losing much. However, this offering provides a wealth of information on the widely circulated misinformation about fatness, and, as anyone who has endured these conditions can attest, it’s refreshing and liberating to see an advocate step forward who is not afraid to call out those who are hurtful, ignorant and deceitful when it comes to this subject. “Your Fat Friend” draws all of these issues into focus and delivers a polite but undeniably pointed middle finger to those who perpetuate misguided attitudes and ideas that ultimately serve no one – yet end up unintentionally or deliberately hurting so many. The film is available for streaming online.

In the interest of full disclosure, I, too, have struggled with body size issues throughout my life, and I can definitely relate to much of what Gordon speaks about in the film. While the picture itself might not be perfect, it expresses many sentiments that I understand all too well – and have done so since childhood. Even though it’s an experience that has been exasperating at times, it has nevertheless provided me with personal insight into the utter ridiculousness of prejudice. From the time I was in kindergarten, I have been subjected to the ridicule and mockery associated with being fat for “reasons” for which no one has ever been able to supply a discernible or justifiable rationale. When one sees that sort of thing up close like that, it becomes easy to see how nonsensical all forms of prejudice truly are. So I carry a few more pounds than others – so what? Does that somehow make me or anyone who looks like me any less of a deserving individual? Think about that the next time you laugh at someone on the basis of his or her body features. And, if you don’t find anything funny in that, thank Aubrey Gordon for helping to point that out.

Copyright © 2024, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

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